- Paul Kuharsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Observations and thoughts out of my final practice with the Jaguars this morning:
Receiver Cecil Shorts has moved up in the rotation and was prominent with both Justin Blackmon (contract dispute) and Laurent Robinson (being evaluated for a possible concussion) missing. Shorts did a lot of good things, but had at least two drops. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert said the receivers made great gains with routes in a tough practice, he saw “crisp, perfect routes.” Drops remain an ongoing issue, however. And Shorts may have run a great route on one seven-on-seven play, but Gabbert stared him down and Rashean Mathis easily slipped inside the receiver for a pick.
One of Shorts’ drops produced a terrible officiating situation. NFL replacement officials are here through Friday night’s scrimmage. Shorts went up on the left sideline to grab a Gabbert pass over defensive back Courtney Greene. Shorts made a fine play on the ball, but ultimately allowed it to squirt out as he went to the ground. Official No. 82 -- whose name the league didn't make available -- had no idea what had unfolded and looked up the line to Neely Dunn, an NFL supervisor of officials who had to tell him it was incomplete. Perhaps No. 82 would be looking to his teammate up the line in that situation for help, but I saw little effort to actually diagnose what happened and a big effort to get off the hook for making a call. Dunn was doing a lot of hands-on coaching of the officials. Will the league clone him and put him on the field as a reference point for these subs if they are used in actual games?
I can’t visit Jacksonville during camp without watching the defensive line’s period with its coach, Joe Cullen. It can be hard to look anywhere else, but I intentionally waited until today. He ran his guys through a furious session, going from drill-to-drill and working on power, cornering and getting through traffic. For the latter, they weaved through four dummies set in a tight row before turning left to hit the QB dummy and swipe at his arm. The pace was well above what you see at position drills. And yes, Cullen’s voice is about gone. His guys know how to listen to his hoarse instruction and evaluation.
Chad Henne has been average at best. Gabbert bashers can find ammunition, but at this point they can’t argue that the backup quarterback would give the Jaguars a better chance to win.
Coach Mike Mularkey said he never promotes fights but he does find value in the competitiveness that can fuel them. He went out of his way to point out that players are disciplined for fighting. He also went out of his way to share how minor that is: a $25 fine. A bit cheaper than the $10,000 hit for answering questions about injuries.
Gabbert is not being discouraged from running, and Mularkey sees a lot of advantages to the quarterback using his athleticism that way. “When you run the ball, you can protect yourself, you can see where the threat is coming from” as opposed to time spent in the pocket when a quarterback is encouraged to not look at the rush, Mularkey said. Certain coverages will create running opportunities that Gabbert should be considering even in the huddle.
Tight end Marcedes Lewis was featured in red zone team work and looked like the effective weapon we saw in that territory two years ago.
Rookie linebacker Brandon Marshall had a pick, reacting well to a ball batted shortly after Gabbert released it. Couldn’t ID whose paw altered the pass, sorry.
Injuries: Defensive end Austen Lane suffered a sprained foot and linebacker Daryl Smith has a groin injury. Mularkey is optimistic Robinson will be cleared to return but isn’t expecting the same for corner Kevin Rutland, who’s also likely dealing with a concussion.
Fans at Friday’s scrimmage will each get a scratch-off ticket, and 90 of them will win the jersey worn by each player on the field, which will be autographed.
Non-practice aside: I saw two versions of the Jaguars' commercials pushing tickets on Jacksonville’s NBC affiliate during Wednesday night’s Olympic coverage. Gabbert is featured in one, Smith and Tyson Alualu in the other. The players introduce themselves and pledge that they are “All In.” Sleek, I thought.